I was trying to buy something on iTunes the other day, and it prompted me to agree to Apple’s new “Terms and Conditions.” On my iTouch, the Terms occupied 62 screens of text. So I emailed the Terms to myself and, in the meantime, clicked “I Agree.”
Turns out the Terms are 16,914 words. (Switch, a normal-sized nonfiction book, is about 73,000 words.) Let’s assume that people can read and comprehend the Terms at a speed of 200 wpm. (That’s the lower end of the “reading for comprehension” speed range cited on Wikipedia, which should be a fair estimate given the quality of the prose, which makes an IRS form seem like a bodice-ripper.) At that rate, it would take about 85 minutes just to read the Terms.
These New Terms, by the way, come on the heels of the Old New Terms (from March 31), which were 15,170 words. With quarterly updates of the Terms, the average iTunes customer would need to spend a full work day annually just reading legalese. (That’s an 8-hour shift minus an hour for lunch and another for Facebook.) By way of comparison, you can rent a car or bungee-jump by agreeing to a one-page contract.
There’s no sense in getting riled up about something so small, but it just makes you ponder this fact: Dozens of Apple executives have studied this situation and concluded that this is a perfectly reasonable thing to expect your customers to do (that is, either sign a contract blindly or spend a day annually reading legalese).
It is possible, by the way, to create non-shameful contracts: Check out Dropbox’s latest Terms, which includes lines like this: “The Services provide features that allow you to share your stuff with others or to make it public. There are many things that users may do with that stuff (for example, copy it, modify it, re-share it). Please consider carefully what you choose to share or make public.”